The University of Huddersfield has joined the drive to get more women involved in motorsport – behind the wheel, in the pits and in front of the TV cameras. As a result, forty 7-11 year-old girls at local schools had an exciting day at the races.
Susie Wolff – former chief test driver for the Williams Formula One team – is one of the most successful female drivers and she launched an initiative named Dare to be Different, which aims to inspire women in what is a male-dominated activity.
One way to do this is to develop a passion for all aspects of motorsport among young girls. And when Dare to Be Different planned an event at the Daytona Race Circuit in Manchester, it sought the help of the University of Huddersfield’s Carolyn Bishop in recruiting girls from the Huddersfield area.
Carolyn is Schools and Colleges Relationship Officer at the University’s School of Computing and Engineering and she is deeply involved in motorsport herself, helping to run the back-up team for her husband Paul, who races MX5 sports cars in the championship series run by the British Racing and Sports Car Club.
In terms of ability, women are on a par with men in motorsport, but there are the same perceived barriers that apply to all areas of science, technology and engineering
She put out a call to Huddersfield schools and four of them quickly recruited the maximum quota of ten girls from each. The University of Huddersfield sponsored coach travel to and from the venue for the 40 local youngsters, who joined another 60 taking part in the Dare to be Different event.
“It was an action-packed once in a life-time experience for the girls and they loved every moment,” said Carolyn, who attended the event with the University of Huddersfield’s Dr Leigh Fleming, an engineer. The two women are both volunteers for the STEM Ambassadors initiative, which aims to boost interest among young people in science and technical subjects.
During the day at Daytona Manchester, the girls sampled all aspects of motorsport. They raced in karts, but also experienced work in the pits, such as changing tyres, and had a turn in front of the cameras, reporting on the action. Helping them with this was TV presenter Louise Goodman, who has covered Formula One (F1) for ITV.
Carolyn Bishop said that the goal was to interest girls in motor sport and help them break through the perceived barriers that mean at it is still male-dominated.
Although there are increasing numbers for women racers in many divisions of motorsport, there is yet to be a significant breakthrough for female F1 drivers, she said, although Susie Wolff came very close.
“There is no physical reason for this,” said Carolyn. “In terms of ability, women are on a par with men in motorsport, but there are the same perceived barriers that apply to all areas of science, technology and engineering. It is a question of overcoming those barriers and raising aspirations.”
Now, after the success of the Daytona Manchester day, the University – which has a degree course in motorsport engineering – aims to take part in future Dare to Be Different events.
Huddersfield schools taking party in the Manchester Dare to be Different day were Spring Grove Junior and Infant, Lindley Junior School, Meltham CE School and Wooldale Junior School.